Lawmakers ponder mandatory kindergarten

Lawmakers ponder mandatory kindergarten

(Calif.) A bill gaining momentum in the state Senate aims to make one year of kindergarten mandatory for admittance into first grade starting in the 2016-17 school year; affecting a relatively small amount of children.

The California Department of Education estimates that only 28,000 students enrolled in first grade in the 2011-12 school year – 5.7 percent of all first graders – didn’t attended kindergarten the prior year.

Current law requires everyone between the ages of 6 and 18 attend school full-time, and AB 1444 would maintain that condition of age-eligibility. If approved, this bill would still allow parents to wait to enroll their child in school until age six, but that 6-year-old would have to start in kindergarten – something which opponents say would be detrimental to children.

“Parents who have chosen to delay their child’s entry into formal education due to concern over what is best for their child’s education would be forced to choose between either starting their child’s formal education before they feel it is best, or forcing the student to unnecessarily be in classrooms with younger children than himself for his entire K-12 education,” explained Nathan Pierce of Independent Private Schools of California at a Senate Education Committee hearing last week.

“The final result of graduating an entire year later than the students that are his own age is an embarrassing situation which would impress into any child’s self-esteem,” he said.

Mounting evidence pointing toward the short- and long-term benefits of early education has pushed legislators to begin writing numerous laws regarding quality childcare, pre-kindergarten, transitional kindergarten and full-day kindergarten.

One highlight of the 2014-15 budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Friday is an added $264 million dedicated to aiding and expanding those programs.

“We know that early childhood education is critical to student success,” said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, the bill’s author, during the same hearing. “Children who attend kindergarten are better prepared academically and socially for first grade.”

Despite the fact kindergarten is considered a grade level, attendance is not mandatory. Yet the CDE estimates that between 90 and 95 percent of eligible students attend kindergarten.

Though opponents to the bill say flexibility needs to remain for those individuals who choose not to attend kindergarten, Buchanan maintained that those children would fall behind if they began their schooling in first grade, especially with the continued roll out of the new Common Core standards.

“For children who have not attended pre-school, kindergarten is where they learn how to hold a pencil properly, follow directions and sit still, in addition to beginning reading and math skills,” she said. “The new Common Core standards have academic expectations for kindergarten students, and if children don’t attend they begin first grade behind, and often finish high school behind, if they finish at all.”

According to a staff analysis, adding those children not currently attending kindergarten into the average daily attendance would cost the state approximately $123.3 million in ongoing general fund and Proposition 98 costs.

The bill passed the Senate Education Committee with a 5-2 vote but still needs approval from the Appropriations Committee before it can be considered by the whole Senate.

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